Mark Pilgrim's Not on Board

Mark Pilgrim offers his long bet on the newly public RSS Advisory Board:

I assume the group won't actually accomplish anything; they'll just stumble around like small children running with scissors to catch the short bus until they quietly disband, and we can look forward to doing all of this over again in 2 years. But in the meantime, I regard it as inevitable that the group will eventually try (and fail) to tackle every single one of these issues. (I believe Rogers once called this "the most well-researched flame on the Internet," which is about as close to a compliment as I'm likely to get from him.) But no one will actually dare to link to the article itself, and those who haven't read it (or couldn't finish it because they were too busy spitting bile at their monitor) will wonder where all these test cases came from, and why everyone seems to know so much about this ragtag collection of esoteric issues, and wouldn't it be nice if someone could write all of them down in one place, and someone will volunteer to do exactly that, except he'll want to be all clever-like and do it in OPML, and it will only validate in one of the three OPML validators, and the thread will go off on a long tangent about which validator is "correct", which will itself spawn a separate mailing list, blog, wiki, discussion forum, and advisory board to be hosted at, which will fork each existing OPML validator and host it locally and then never update it, so they will slowly go out of sync with each original version, which will lead to a total of six OPML validators and a bitter Google PageRank war and lots of wringing of hands about how Google is favoring OPML validators that are not The One True OPML Validator, which is, of course, Radio.

But I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

I don't know how much the board will accomplish, and I'm reluctant to saddle the new members with my own expectations, but I'm encouraged by the early progress on a proposed specification, which if written properly ought to resolve some long-standing issues.

Ultimately, the reason I was eager to see the group go forward (and go public) is because Really Simple Syndication is a ginormously successful format that's going to become more popular after the release of Internet Explorer 7. Thousands of sites use RSS. Businesses are banking on it, including the largest software company in the world.

Considering all of that, how could anyone favor the dissolution of a group that publishes the format's specification and tries to make RSS easier for developers to support?

RSS already lost one patron when Netscape abandoned interest just as syndication was starting to take off six years ago. Losing another today, when syndication formats are about to be introduced to millions of users through Internet Explorer, doesn't make sense.


I don't know if anyone would favor the dissolution of the group. I think that there would more respect for the concept of the group if the people picked were a) picked by the community of users and/or b) had a long history in working syndication issues.

In fact, Randy is about the only one I know of from the group who has been heavily involved in RSS in the last several years. Randy and perhaps Jenny.

And 2 out of 8 as women? Nah, not good enough.

Just same old same old.

What Shelley said, except the updated spec does show promise of being better than same old same old.

Speaking metaphorically (and hoping I can tiptoe around Shelley's gender point), a problem to date has been that the group hasn't had any balls. Link to Mark's incompatibility piece, have the confidence to be open about the issues. Harvard isn't a standards org, this Advisory Board is the nearest it gets. So I'd suggest establishing some credibility by facing the issues head-on, rather than sweeping them under the "Simple" rug. Escaping HTML in XML can cause problems, GUIDs can be unreliable - things like this should be acknowledged and clear guidelines given.

What about mime type and autodiscovery? Randy's USM? Interop with Atom systems? Where's the RSS2-to-Atom and Atom-to-RSS2 XSLT? The Relax NG schema? Advice for RDF developers? There are also the issues relating to 3rd party extensions - iTunes, SSE, MRSS etc.

Oh, and if the members of the group honestly believe RSS 2.0 has something offer that can't be better provided with Atom, I think we should hear what it is ;-)

btw, the OPML list of Advisory Board members apparently is not valid OPML :


I fear that building and defending standards is a full time job without compensation for the worker.

Your advisory board does seem to have a lot of high level business types that would care about the results and probably not contribute to the incredibly painful experience of committee work to get something done.

But it work worth doing because RSS is rapidly becoming a defacto standard and sanding off the rough edges is an important start to getting better behavior out of these text feeds.

It doesn't feel like there is an RSS community in a sense and this may make all the difference.

Hey! Raging negativity from Mark Pilgrim. What's old is new again!

Rogers says:
"I don't know how much the board will accomplish, and I'm reluctant to saddle the new members with my own expectations, but I'm encouraged by the early progress on a proposed specification, which if written properly ought to resolve some long-standing issues. "

As you know Rogers, I don't know diddley about this. In fact, I probably know more about diddley than I do this. But I am trying to understand how this might affect the daily lives of people who use the net and read and have blogs. And no, I don't even understand that, yet.
But one thing that really jumped out to me in the above portion of your post is that you don't want to have any expectations for the advisory board. And writing a proposed specification doesn't do much unless it's done within the framework of meeting certain goals or adressing problem or concern. To me - and I could be wrong - that interprets into there are no tangible, specific goals for the board. If so, how will you know what success looks like if you don't draw some sort of picture of it on the front end? I read your response to me about my previous post, where I asked
why isn't there an easily understandable case made to the public as to why these issues are important. Underline and emphasize the word public.

Your response was "RSS should interest you as a PR exec because it's is a channel companies can use to reach customers directly. Are you using My Yahoo? It's showing thousands of people the benefits of RSS without telling them they're soaking in it."

To me that, I would respectfully submit, is a brushoff response. Hey kid this affects business and possibly in a big way and that's all you need to know. Now run along you're bothering me." This is especially a brushoff response when you consider that your original column on the RSS Advisory Board going public stated that one of its missions was to "broaden public understanding of the format." It's funny that I have asked about three times what the significance of these issues the RSS Advisory Board is considering might be in the daily lives of the average Joe or Josephine and received no specific response or explanation. I almost get the feeling since I am not a geek, the questions aren't welcomed. I am not surprised that if you can't explain the significance and importance of hashing out these issues to the public, that you have problems agreeing on them amongst yourselves. You would also think that if you could come up with a paragraph or two about what significant things will or will not happen in the the daily lives of the average Joe and Josephine if these issues ARE NOT addressed, then you might be able to leverage that into positive media coverage about your efforts. That's my last shot at this.

I'm not trying to brush you off. I agree that the board ought to publish a guide to RSS for web users who would benefit from reading their favorite sites over RSS.

It's just not something I have gotten to yet, because drafting a new specification is keeping me busy.

If I can rope you into helping, I'll write a guide. I need somebody who can tell me when the explanation has descended into technical gobbledygook. I'm too far down the rabbit hole with RSS to have a good perspective on what it looks like to normal human beings.

Beating you into submission, reminds me of when we were roommates. And I don't mean that in an S&M brokeback mountain sort of way.

maybe i should have said pestering into submission ...

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